Or, ‘On Making Rough Drafts Public’.
Originally I was going to have this Friday’s post be about The Evolution of Setting, but I couldn’t remember half the points I wanted to cover, and I decided that I should probably save most of these backward-looking posts for when I’ve actually, y’know, finished a first draft or something similarly outlandish. So instead I’m going to talk about an important consideration for any writer who wants to build up a following online: namely, how polished does my writing have to be before I post it on the Internet?
Above all, the issue of online publishing is integral to fanfiction, because fanfic writers don’t generally have the option of publishing through traditional means. (Unless you’re writing a new Star Wars book or a BBC novel of a television series, like Doctor Who or this Heroes novel I found in a charity shop once). We serialise our work, promote it and connect with our audience online. Some fanfiction writers post stories purely to gain as wide an audience as possible, and others gear the content of their work around reader feedback and suggestions. (I’m not just talking about those writers who whine, “at least 10 ppl need 2 revue dis or im NEVER POSTIN AGAIN!!!” Although they count too).
Combine this very Internet-centric form of writing with the total freedom to publish content online without any kind of quality control, and you end up with an infamous mess of terrible writing, idealised and unbalanced characters, self-insertion, gratuitous porn and more. Granted, a lot of this can also be traced back to the immaturity of most fanfic writers (who typically start writing in their early teens), but it sets a precedent such that even those more experienced writers who normally hold their work to a higher standard don’t tend to try too hard with fanfiction. The expectations of your typical fanfic reader are similarly lowered, as it’s generally accepted that anyone who expects quality from their reading on a regular basis won’t be looking for it in fanfiction.
So last November during NaNo 2012 I started a thread in the Fanfiction forum entitled, 'Serialising your fic online during NaNo?'* Given that NaNo is infamous for producing an extremely rough draft full of dirty wordcount-boosting tricks, challenges and whatever random drivel was needed to get your muse going again at the time, I was curious as to whether or not my fellow fanficcers would be serialising their work online as they wrote it. Would they choose to wait until the month was up to revise and post it all? Run each chapter past a beta reader first before publishing?
Responses were more or less split down the middle, with slightly more novellers planning to serialise their fic online during the month than not. Many of them cited reader reviews as a motivating factor to keep going with the challenge. Some were planning to post only after they had a good idea of where the plot was going; others had plans to release their work to a limited online audience, such as a small writers’ forum or a friends-only Livejournal.
I announced in the original post that I was going to be serialising my fic on Fanfiction.net and AO3 during the month, but it didn’t take me long to revise that plan. Plot holes gaped wide open from the start (some of them are still gaping, four months on); research needed doing, characters were unformed and their roles unclear, events unfolded onto the page in the wrong order, and I skipped writing large sections of the story to try and keep myself interested. Standard first-draft stuff, but not the kind of thing I would be comfortable posting online under the guise of a finished fic. Even to Fanfiction.net.
It became apparent pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to win NaNoWriMo with ‘The Neverland’, so my thoughts started turning to the long term: things I could do to motivate myself after November was over. The idea of making a blog appealed to me. The difference with having my own blog, as opposed to publishing to a fanfiction site, would be that I had my own space with no rules about posting completed pieces, or excerpts in the right order; no content ratings; I could make it look however I wanted and include other types of media; and I could mix up the story itself with posts about my research and writing process. I love talking about my writing process.
After NaNo was over, I was talking to YukiAme about my plan for the blog, and she drew my attention to a discussion thread* in the forums about writing blogs/websites and using them to build up an audience for your work. Immediately I noticed there was a markedly different attitude from the casual, “I might beta my fic I guess” attitude of fanficcers towards posting fanfic. Of course, fanficcers are primarily hobbyists and not necessarily aspiring professionals looking to create a polished image for themselves. And there are fanficcers who have a higher-standards approach towards their fic, as you’ll see from the thread I linked earlier. Even so, comments like “I'd never show anyone anything that wasn't polished to absolute perfection” did give me pause. I do want to be a professional writer in the near future and yet I was planning to do the exact opposite of what most of the posters in that thread were advocating. Publishing rough, first-draft excerpts of an incomplete novel without any particular thought to putting across a professional image in my blog or writing.
Now as you can probably tell, those reservations didn’t stop me from deciding to create this blog. I’m used to writing my fanfiction with an active and participating audience, and I think the benefits of what I’m doing outweigh the negatives. Primarily, I was looking for something to keep me working on ‘The Neverland’ when every other NaNo project I’ve started so far has been shelved, incomplete. A surprising amount of people had expressed interest in the story when they heard the idea, and I wanted to let them know what I’d been doing with it and give them something to follow. It gives me a testing ground to get feedback on techniques like Chapter 1’s chat thread transcript from a select audience (currently very select), allows me to build on the world of the novel and the research I’ve done for anyone who’s interested, and gives me a place to share awesome things I’ve found along the way.
There’s also the fact that if I were looking to present a professional image to the Internet, I probably wouldn’t be publishing works like this one. (NSFW. Also crackfic).
With that said, the argument for presenting a professional writerly image online is still a strong one, especially in an age where it’s becoming harder and harder to keep your Internet identity separate from your real-life one. There might come a day when I go around the ‘net frantically erasing embarrassments like the creation above you before future employers find them.
At the moment, though, I’m enjoying the freedom of posting what I like, how I like. I’m planning to do one more revision on Chapter 1 and then put it up on Fanfiction.net in the hopes of luring more readers over here where the real action is taking place. ;) I might actually stick to the update schedule then!
And if you’ve been sitting there thinking “That’s great, but I would love just to have a first draft of my writing so that I can worry about fun things like posting it!” then my friend Lho Brockhoff has some advice for you. :D
*All NaNoWriMo links active until the forums are wiped in September 2013